Day 10: A look at the Ubuntu Software Center

By Tony Bradley, PCWorld

If you have been following along, then you know I have had my share of issues thus far in my 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux journey. One thing that stands out for me as a plus so far, though, for Linux -- or at least for Ubuntu Linux -- is the Ubuntu Software Center.

It seems that not a day has gone by without some comment on my 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux post extolling the virtues of the Ubuntu Software Center:

RickDobbelmannqbtt posted, "Get to know the software center. It is an app store but virtually everything is free."

Ubuntu Software Center

You can find a wide variety of apps and tools in the Ubuntu Software Center. (Click to enlarge.)

ChrisHardeetd21 said, "Really the next step should be the Software Center. Just load it up and start searching for apps, you'll find plenty of cool stuff to blog about."

KrisStewartjto9 told me, "If you want to manage your empty 50GB partition, I suggest GParted which I find more useful then [sic] the Windows alternative Partition Magic. You can find it in the Ubuntu Software Center."

OK. I get it. It is like the Linux equivalent of "there's an app for that." I don't have a Mac, but I imagine that the Mac App Store is similar in scope and concept too -- except that the Mac App Store seems to have more of a commercial software focus while the Ubuntu Software Center has predominantly free open source tools.

Just click on the Ubuntu logo at the upper left and select Ubuntu Software Center in the Ubuntu Classic desktop, or just click the Ubuntu Software Center tile (the icon looks like a grocery bag with the Ubuntu logo on it, filled with apps) in the Unity interface, and you are ready to shop.

The default screen displays a variety of departments--or categories -- of software, including Accessories, Education, Games, Internet, Science & Engineering, System, Universal Access, Developer Tools, Fonts, Graphics, Office, Sound & Video, and Themes & Tweaks. Or, if you are looking for something in particular, you can use the search field at the top of the window.

While browsing the departments may uncover some interesting apps, it can also be overwhelming. If you go into Accessories, there are 336 items listed in alphabetical order with no other filtering or grouping to help narrow down what you're looking at. Games has 507 apps, but at least Games does break things down into different types of games (arcade, simulation, sports, etc.) to help you find what you're looking for.

It seems like it is more efficient to look for specific applications, or at least use keywords to search for what you want. When I wanted to find alternative Twitter clients aside from Gwibber, I just searched on "Twitter", and came up with five options. One cool feature is that Ubuntu Software Center displays the rating of the apps as well to help you tell at a glance which ones users like, and which ones are probably duds.

The Ubuntu Software Center is also where you can go to remove apps that are already installed. In the left pane of the display, click on Installed Software. All of the installed apps will display in the right pane. You can select any of them to view more details about the app, or click on Remove to uninstall the app from the system.

Ubuntu Linux

The 30 days series

Day 1: Getting Started

Day 2: That was really easy

Day 9: Testing out some Twitter tools

I really like the Ubuntu Software Center. But, for those who have put it on a pedestal as the ultimate source of software solutions, I have run into two instances already where it wouldn't really help. First, on Day 9 when I was looking for Twitter tools, my search returned five choices, but Tweetdeck -- the best Twitter client in my opinion -- wasn't one of them because it is an Adobe Air app that isn't included in the Ubuntu Software Center.

The other situation is related to trying to get hooked up with the PCWorld VPN. I got a few comments offering guidance to just use this app or that app instead of the actual Cisco AnyConnect VPN client. First of all, it never would have occurred to me that I can just use some random open source VPN tool to connect with the PCWorld VPN. If I was to search the Ubuntu Software Center, it would be for "AnyConnect". In fact, I did search that before going to PCWorld tech support and came up empty.

Second, some of the suggestions involve adding or opening additional software repositories. So, even if it occurred to me that a third-party open source VPN app was an option, I would also have to know which repository it can be found in, and add that repository to the Ubuntu Software Center first.

It is nice that it is possible to do those things, and given time and support from helpful Linux community members, users will eventually discover these tricks. But, for someone just jumping into Linux and trying to set up basic tools and connectivity, that is not the most fluid or intuitive solution.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at He also tweets as @TheTonyBradley.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2011 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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